When customers of The Exchange, a low-priced, up-scale resale shop in Central, South Carolina, pick out an orange Clemson jersey for a friend’s birthday or a leather Harley jacket for their spouse, they may have no idea they just helped plant a church.
But since November 26, 2021, that’s exactly what they have been doing at this home goods/clothing store on the grounds of ALIVE Wesleyan.
Rev. Tom Harding, pastor of ALIVE, was introduced to the concept of asset-based community development in 2020 during the pandemic. He couldn’t shake the idea that ALIVE needed to consider what else God might be waiting to do with the resources the church has been given.
“We have been given a lot at ALIVE from our finances to our property, our facilities, and our staff and volunteers with diverse gift sets,” he said. “The question on my mind was what might God want to do with all of these things that he has entrusted us with if we let him?”
ALIVE leadership prayerfully spent time pondering this question and considering Deuteronomy 28:2-6:
All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God; You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.
That is when the concept for ALIVE Mercantile became a reality to reach spiritually hungry people, connect with them and engage more with the local community.
The vision for the Mercantile consists of three parts:
- The Exchange — A resale shop of home goods and gently used clothing completely funded by donations and staffed by Exchange Director Beth Petersen and volunteers.
- The Farm — Using land around the Central and Pleasant View campuses, ALIVE is raising cattle so families can buy meat and fund special projects with proceeds.
- The Orchard — Designed to use more of ALIVE’s land by planting seasonal fruits and vegetables to sell farmer’s market-style.
So far, The Exchange and The Farm are in full swing. The Orchard is still in the concept stage.
The idea behind the three-part Mercantile vision was to offer new opportunities and environments for people to “bump into Jesus,” said Pastor Tom. Often, those are folks who may have no desire to set foot inside a church.
ALIVE’s vision was put into action when they took an underused pavilion on church property, enclosed it and turned it into The Exchange.
“It’s been more profitable than we imagined,” said Pastor Beth Petersen. In fact, after six months in operation and after paying all expenses, ALIVE was able to put $25,000 toward church multiplication.
“The key was praying that God would bring people with a business mindset, and creativity, and he brought us the most incredible team of skilled businesspeople,” Pastor Beth said. “Another key is creating a thrift store that looked beautiful — that gives people the dignity and enjoyment of shopping in a nice store.”
Ryan Hester, one of the volunteer managers, calls The Exchange “a ministry masquerading as a business.” For example, a wave of Afghan refugees recently came into the area with little to no possessions. The Exchange was there to make sure their basic needs were met.
“It’s an incredible business model for churches, and it is also a way to bring the community to you instead of you going out into the community,” said Pastor Beth. “We have created an atmosphere where people are loved; our volunteers are doing ministry every day.”
The Exchange has become a place where someone sad or depressed can pop in for a free coffee and just sit on the patio. “We’re becoming known for our friendly volunteers,” said Ryan. “I know of two people who have started coming to ALIVE solely because of The Exchange.”
As for The Farm, the first seven cows were purchased in May 2021 and processed in January. It now has a second herd — seven at ALIVE and another seven at the Pleasant View Campus. It takes approximately one acre to keep one cow and a team of people to feed them — with up to 18 volunteers serving in that capacity. The idea, said Pleasant View Campus Pastor Andrew Fetterhoff, is to allow ALIVE to be a source of sustainment for the community. “Anything we can do to advance the kingdom, we’ll do it. If that means we become known as the church with the cows, that’s what we’ll do!”
ALIVE was able to donate $5,000 from its meat sales from the first herd to a local elementary school for an exhibit in its Discovery Center. Just one more way ALIVE wants to invest in those around it.
Since launching the ALIVE Mercantile concept, the church has embarked on Project 20 with the goal of planting 20 Christ-centered communities in the next 10 years. It hired Multiplication Pastor Rob Campbell and the foundation is set to reach its church multiplication goals.
“It’s exciting to see God’s family using their creative energies to invest in kingdom expansion,” said Pastor Rob. “So much ministry is happening all around us as we meet people in these environments at The Exchange or at The Farm or at one of our church plants. We’re thankful for the heart of multiplication we see manifested through Project 20.”
Jennifer Jones is the district administrator for the South Carolina District of The Wesleyan Church.
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